French has an ardent dedication to “euphony,” or the quality of sounding harmonious. There are rules to make sure that French always sounds like a song or an old-fashioned melodrama, it’s not just a coincidence! One rule, for example, is that it avoids using words that end with a vowel sound before words that begin with one. Either the vowel is silent or consonant sounds are placed in between so that the words can flow into each other.
2. The Verb “Aimer”
“Aimer” can mean “to like” or “to love.” Sure, they have expressions that specify a difference between liking and loving someone (i.e. to say you love someone you simply say “Je t’aime,” where as “Je t’aime bien” would imply that it’s more of a crush.) But, overall I think it’s nice that there isn’t so much a distinction between these two positive feelings where as us cynical, hipster-y English-speakers tend to be very clear: “I like Starbucks coffee, but I don’t love it.”
3. “Faire l’amour”
French people most commonly use this phrase, which directly translates to “making love.” When I asked French friends if they would ever say “avoir des relations sexuelles,” they just laughed at me because it sounds too clinical or proper to them. You can use slang words that all basically mean “fuck” if you don’t want to sound quite so romantic; but in general, French people’s gag reflex isn’t triggered quite as easily as Americans when it comes to sounding romantic.
4. Somehow “eau” sounds like “o”
Some people dislike the fact that French is rarely pronounced the way it looks, but I personally love it. The more you use it, the more natural it seems that it’s spelled “beau” and not “bo.”
5. Fun accent marks
There are few times in English you get to use accent marks. In fact, most of the time you can, it’s because it’s actually a French word like “cliché” or “naïve.” My absolute favorite accent mark is “ç” and the only time you can use that in English is if you’re trying to sound like a health nut who’s obsessed with açai berry.
6. B.A.G.S. Adjectives
In French, adjectives usually go after the noun they describe, but there are some exceptions. Adjectives that describe beauty, age, goodness, or size go before the noun. Setting these kinds of adjectives apart from the rest seems to give them even more emphasis, like oh snap, that’s a big croissant! (Shout out to Madame C–, my middle school French teacher for that nifty mnemonic device!)
7. Beautiful, but morbid expressions
Every language has “untranslatable” expressions with meanings that can’t quite be captured in another language. French has quite a few of these, and some of the best ones are morbidly beautiful. For example, some of you may have heard the phrase “l’appel du vide.” This phrase translates to “the call of the void” and it refers to the feeling some people get when looking down from tall heights where they feel the urge to jump. Another great one is “la petite morte,” a euphemism for an orgasm that means “the little death.” (Again, with the lovemaking…Keep your pants on, Frenchies!)
8. Silly Swear Words
Whenever I swear or get angry in French, I can never take myself too seriously. “Fuck” is “Putain” and even just the sound of it makes me think of a man with a comical mustache spitting in disgust.
9. The elusive pronunciation of “R”
The hardest sound for Americans to pronounce has got to the be “r.” You can practice it over and over again and to a French person it will still sound like you just swallowed a bug or you’re choking on a stale baguette. But when you finally do nail that sound, be proud! And then proceed to make fun your French friends for saying, “Zis is not zzhe right bus stop.”
I love pretty much everything about French. The vocabulary, the grammar, the pronunciation and the culture embedded in the language. It’s no wonder it’s so highly regarded as a beautiful language even though it may not be as commonly spoken as English. I want to learn as many languages as I can and they are all unique and beautiful in their own way, but I know that French will always be my first love.